Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Obama Village: Not a Village

This Saturday, I biked about 30k north of Lomé to a sign I'd noticed pointing off the national highway to Obama Village. I've been wanting to go since March, to add to my photo collection of Obama things. I figured I'd find the village chief, ask him why they changed the name, what was the village called before, maybe have some local brew, and then head out again. I even bought bread, a standard gift, to present to him.

I arrived around 7:30 and pushed my bike down the path in the direction indicated, after taking the obligatory photo.

The first man I met couldn't tell me anything. The second one said there was no village, just farms. I asked if one was called Obama Village and he said something about one big farm, well, not that big, but...

The path to Obama Village.

Now, rather than imagining an interview with the village chief, I imagined talking to a farmer who'd named his farm Obama Village (and put the sign on the roadside). I followed the path past smaller turn-offs and one or two shuttered mud buildings. When the path ended in a cornfield, I turned around and followed the sound of voices. I found a hut, where I greeted a young woman and asked about Obama Village.

"It's that way," she said, pointing, "hold on."

She led me, still pushing my bike, down a path, two younger girls following us. They chattered behind us in Ewe*, and their conversation went something like this:

"Ewe ewe ewe ewe Obama Village. Ewe ewe ewe Obama Village ewe."

We passed a cluster of huts and picked up a man of about 20. I was disappointed that this hut cluster was not Obama Village. We continued, passing a woman in a field ("Obama Village!") and another attacking a young teak tree with her machete ("Ewe ewe Obama Village!"). We turned left and then right off the path, at which point I started wondering where they were leading me.

Fifty meters off the path, we came to a palm frond shelter where the young man, Yao, suggested I leave my bike, since the path was nonexistent. I did, and we continued another fifty meters to Obama Village.

That's it.

I asked who built it.

"The owner of this land."

"Does he live here?"

"No. He is in America."

"And the mason?"


We walked back, and when we arrived at my guide's home, I gave her the bread I'd bought for the chief of Obama Village.

"Thank you very much, Afi. You are the chief of Obama Village."

Yawa, Afi, my guide, Amelevie and Yao

I found out later from a Peace Corps employee that people are buying cheap land right now with the idea of building on it later. So in 10 years, maybe there will be an actual village to visit.

*Ewe is a local language spoken in southern Togo, Ghana and Benin. It's also an ethnicity. It's pronounced "eh-vay" and not like a female sheep.